empty podium for debate

Republican Candidates Debate in Miami, Florida

November 08, 2023

Former Governor Chris Christie (NJ);
Governor Ron DeSantis (FL);
Former Governor Nikki Haley (SC);
Vivek Ramaswamy;
Senator Tim Scott (SC);

Hugh Hewitt (Salem Media Group);
Lester Holt (NBC News); and
Kristen Welker (NBC News)

HOLT: And good evening everyone. Welcome to the Republican Presidential Debate, I'm Lester Holt, anchor of NBC Nightly News.

WELKER: Good evening, I'm Kristen Welker, moderator of NBC's Meet the Press.

HEWITT: Hello, I'm Hugh Hewitt, host of Salem Radio's, the Hugh Hewitt Show.

HOLT: We are now just 68 days from the Iowa caucuses when Republican primary voters will begin to determine their party's nominee for president. Tonight, we'll question five candidates seeking that nomination on how they're best prepared to be commander-in-chief, and of course how best to bring down prices impacting Americans across the country. We have two hours for a serious debate on the issues that matter most to Republican voters. Candidates will have one minute and 30 seconds for answers and the opportunity for a closing statement. Follow-ups will be at the discretion of all of us at the table, the moderators. Invoking a candidate's name or policy does not necessarily mean the mentioned candidate is entitled to a response. We want to caution all the candidates not to interrupt or speak over your fellow debaters. If you talk over each other, the voters can't hear you. And given the critical issues we're facing specifically on the world sage, we want everyone to hear every word you have to say, continued interruptions may result in loss of additional questions. And to our audience, please, please hold your applause so that the candidates can be heard.

With that said, let's have a good debate. All right, our first question, the opening question is one for all of you. Donald Trump is the first ex-president in more than 100 years to [inaudible] popular among Republican primary voters as his legal challenges mount. Governor DeSantis, let me begin with you on this one. Speak to Republican voters who are supporting Donald Trump. why should you and not him be the Republican nominee to face Joe Biden a year from now?

DESANTIS: This country is in trouble and the elites that have put us here, they don't care about you. They don't care that you're having to grapple with higher grocery prices or have higher gas prices, they don't care that your family's less secure because of the open border that's allowed drugs and even terrorists to come into this country. Well, I care. I am not going to sit idly by and let this country continue its downward spiral, we need leadership and we need it now. I'll take the hits, I'll take the arrows, I'll take the slayings because ultimately it's not about me, it's about you. I will fight for you. I will make sure to lead this country's revival and I will win for you and your family. Actions speak louder than words. We don't have time for excuses and it's not something that we're going to be able to have all these distractions. As a veteran, I will get the job done.

Now if you look where we are now, it's a lot different than where we were in 2016 and Donald Trump's a lot different guy than he was in 2016. He owes it to you to be on this stage and explain why he should get another chance. He should explain why he didn't have Mexico pay for the border wall, he should explain why he racked up so much debt. He should explain why he didn't drain the swamp and he said Republicans we're going to get tired of winning. Well, we saw last night I'm sick of Republicans losing in Florida, I showed how it's done, one year ago, here we won a historic victory including a massive landside right here in Miami-Dade County, that's how we have to do it. So I promise you this as the nominee next November, I'll get the job done and as president I will deliver for you.

HOLT: Your time is up. Let me turn to Ambassador Haley... Audience. Let me turn to Ambassador Haley, why you and not the former president?

HALEY: Well, I think you look at the fact that we're almost $34 trillion in debt. 60% of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, 50% of American families can't afford diapers. One in six American families can't pay their utility bills. You have parents who are worried about what's being said or taught to their child in the classroom, there's no transparency. We have antisemitism all over our college campuses and students feel unsafe. You've got an open border where terrorists can come through and we've got wars happening all over us and there are dangers around us. Everybody wants to talk about President Trump. Well, I can talk about President Trump. I can tell you that I think he was the right president at the right time. I don't think he's the right president now. I think that he put us $8 trillion in debt and our kids are never going to forgive us for that.

I think the fact that he used to be right on Ukraine and foreign issues, now he's getting weak in the knees and trying to be friendly again. I think that we've got to go back to the fact that we can't live in the past, we can't live in other headlines. We've got to start focusing on what's going to make America strong and proud. And that's what I'm focused on doing. Let's make sure we pay down our debt, I think we need an accountant in the White House. Let's make sure that we have transparency in the classroom, as a mom, I know what that means. Let's make sure we secure our borders so that our families are safe. Let's get crime down because our families want to know that they can be safe no matter where they go. And as the wife of a combat veteran, I will tell you a military needs to know we have their back and we need to make sure that America's strong.

HOLT: Ambassador, thank you very much. Let me just caution the audience. Let's not go down this road, we've asked you to please restrain yourselves and would be helpful so we can hear the candidates because these are important issues and the voters want and need to hear them. Mr. Ramaswamy, let me turn to you. Please make your case, why should you be the nominee and not the former president?

RAMASWAMY: I think there's something deeper going on in the Republican Party here and I am upset about what happened last night. We've become a party of losers, at the end of the day. We as a cancer the Republican establishment. Let's speak the truth, I mean since Ronald McDaniel took over as chairwoman of the RNC in 2017, we have lost 2018, 2020, 2022, no red wave that never came, we got trounced last night in 2023. And I think that we have to have accountability in our party for that matter, Ron, if you want to come on stage tonight, you want to look the GOP voters in the eye and tell them you resign. I will turn over my yield, my time to you. And frankly, look the people there cheering for losing in the Republican Party.

Think about whose moderating this debate, this should be Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan and Elon Musk, we'd have 10 times the viewership asking questions that GOP primary voters actually care about and bringing more people into our party. And we've Kristen Welker here, do you think the Democrats would actually hire Greg Gutfeld to host a democratic debate? They wouldn't do it. And so the fact of the matter is, I mean Kristen, I'm going to use this time, 'cause this is actually about you in the media and the corrupt media establishment. Ask you the Trump Russia collusion hoax that you pushed on this network for years, was that real or was that Hillary Clinton made up disinformation? Answer the question. Go.

WELKER: Mr. Ramaswamy-

HOLT: Sorry-

RAMASWAMY: This is how we get our country back. We need accountability because this media rigged the 2016 election, they rigged the 2020 election with a Hunter Biden laptop story, and they're going to rig this election [inaudible]-

HOLT: Mr. Ramaswamy, you're time is up.

RAMASWAMY: ... accountability, that's how you unite this country.

HOLT: Let me turn to Governor Christie, why you... Audience, let's not do this. Let's not do this, let's let the candidates speak. Governor Christie, why you and not former President Trump?

CHRISTIE: Well, Lester, look, you said it at the beginning of the debate. We are dealing with extraordinarily important issues facing this country right now. We have our greatest ally in the Middle East under fire from a terrorist group that has committed to wiping them and every Jewish person in this world off the map. We have Ukraine with Vladimir Putin, a communist KGB dictator who wants to put the old band back together, he's starting in Ukraine and he's going to move to the Baltics and Poland after that. We have inflation in this country that is choking, choking every American family that wants to try to rise up and give their children a better life. And tonight we need to decide which president's going to be the one to tackle the big issues? Who's going to make this country look once again, not just inward, but look outward at the world and say America is the country, the indispensable nation that makes this a safer world? And in a safer world, American innovation, American hard work has always been the thing that has driven our country to greater things.

I'm going to be the President who will do those big things. We're not going to be small. And I'll say this about Donald Trump. Anybody who's going to be spending the next year and a half of their life focusing on keeping themselves out of jail and courtrooms cannot lead this party or this country, and it needs to be said plainly.

HOLT: All right, Governor, thank you. Let me turn to Senator Scott. Senator Scott, you've said former President Trump can't win. Make your case to Republican voters.

SCOTT: Well certainly what I would say without any questions that the truth of my life destroys the lies of the radical left. We need a president and a candidate who will actually help our base solidify and attract independent voters into our party. The great opportunity party is now winning back African-American voters and Hispanic voters, because we are working on a foundation based on faith, our nation is facing some deep challenges, it is a loss of faith in this nation that is a part of the erosion that we're seeing every single day. It's restoring faith, restoring our Christian values that will help this nation once again become the city on the hill. When Ronald Reagan talked about the city on the hill, he was coming from Matthew five. When President Lincoln talked about a house divided, that was Mark. Our founding documents speak to the importance of a faith foundation. You don't have to be a Christian for America to work for you, but America does not work without a faith-filled Judeo-Christian foundation.

I would be the President that helps us restore faith in God, faith in each other and faith in our future. Without that focus, none of the issues, the policies matter. We have to get back to being a nation that is in fact the city on the hill that believes in each other enough for us to fight for that future.

HOLT: Senator Scott, thank you. We're going to turn now to the challenges facing the next commander-in-chief. You'll all be fielding questions first from me and the Republican Jewish Coalition and then from Kristen and Hugh. So as we continue forward, the Israel Hamas war is barely a month old, tonight, Israeli troops are fighting inside Gaza City with over 200 hostages who remain captive there and civilian casualties mount inside Gaza. As President of the United States, what would you be urging Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do at this moment? Governor DeSantis.

DESANTIS: I would be telling Bibi, finish the job once and for all with these butchers, Hamas, their terrorists, their massacring innocent people. They would wipe every Jew off the globe if they could. He cannot live with that threat right by his country. That Hamas should release every hostage and they should unconditionally surrender. I'm sick of hearing the media, I'm sick of hearing other people blame Israel just for defending itself. We will stand with Israel in word and indeed in public and in private. And I can tell you as governor, I actually did something about it. Biden's neglect has been atrocious, we had Floridians that were over there after the attack. He left them stranded. They couldn't get flights out. So I scrambled resources in Florida. I sent planes over to Israel and I brought back over 700 people to safety. There could have been more hostages had we not acted.

And I'll tell you this, I met the first planeload when they came to Florida and one of the mothers pointed to a six-year-old daughter. And she said, "My daughter had been saying the last two nights, mommy, I don't want to hear any more bombs, no more rockets. I just want to get back to Florida." So there's a difference between words and deeds, we acted and we save lives.

HOLT: Thank you. Ambassador Haley, what would you do? What would you be urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do? Would you consider humanitarian pause for example?

HALEY: The first thing I said to him when it happened was I said, finish them. Finish them. And the reason is I worked on this every day when I was at the United Nations and we have to remember that they have to one, eliminate Hamas, two support Israel with whatever they need, whenever they need it. And three, make sure we bring our hostages home. We need to be very clear-eyed to know there would be no Hamas without Iran, there would be no Hezbollah without Iran. There would not be the Houthis without Iran and there wouldn't be the Iranian militias in Syria and Iraq that are trying to hit our military men and women if it hadn't been for Iran. And who is funding Iran, right now? China is buying oil from Iran, Russia is getting drones and missiles from Iran and there is an unholy alliance. We need to be clear-eyed. The last thing we need to do is to tell Israel what to do. The only thing we should be doing is supporting them in eliminating Hamas.

It is not that Israel needs America, America needs Israel. They are the tip of the spear when it comes to this Islamic terrorism and we need to make sure that we have their backs in that process.

HOLT: All right, thank you. Mr. Ramaswamy, any daylight between you and the candidates we just heard in this issue on what you would tell the Prime Minister?

RAMASWAMY: In terms of what I would tell the Prime Minister, no. In fact I would go one step further, the founding vision of Israel was based on the idea that they don't want to depend on anybody else's sympathy or direction in defending themselves. So what I would tell Bibi is that Israel has the right and the responsibility to defend itself. I would tell him to smoke those terrorists on his southern border and then I'll tell him as President of the United States, I'll be smoking the terrorists on our southern border. That's his responsibility, this is our responsibility. That's how we move forward. But I want to be careful to avoid making the mistakes from the NeoCon establishment of the past. Corrupt politicians in both parties spent trillions, killed millions, made billions for themselves in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting wars that sent 1000s of our sons and daughters, people my age to die in wars that did not advance anyone's interests. Adding $7 trillion to our national debt.

And Joe Biden sold off our foreign policy. Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden got a $5 million bribe from Ukraine, that's why we're sending $200 billion back to that same country. The fact of the matter is the Republican Party is not that much better. You have the likes of Nikki Haley who stepped down from her time at the UN, bankrupt or in debt was her family. Then she becomes a military contractor, she joins the board of Boeing and otherwise and is now a multi-millionaire. So I think that that's wrong when Republicans do it or Democrats do it. That's the choice we face. Do you want a leader from a different generation who's going to put this country first or do you want Dick Cheney in three inch heels? In which case, we've got two of them on stage tonight.

HOLT: All right, Mr. Ramaswamy, thank you. Senator Scott?


HOLT: Senator, same question to you about, you're the president, you're on the phone of the Oval Office with the Prime Minister, you tell him what?

SCOTT: Well, number one, I would tell Prime Minister Netanyahu, not only do you have the responsibility and the right to wipe Hamas off of the map, we will support you, we will be there with you, we'll stand shoulder to shoulder. There will be no daylight. But I would change the station a little bit though and head back home to America. I would say to President Biden, diplomacy only is a weak strategy, appeasement leads to war. From President Obama to President Biden, Obama sent millions to Iran, frankly, president Biden has hit billions to Iran. That is why I said that there's blood dripping from the hands of President Obama and President Biden. I would tell President Biden with great clarity, if you want to stop the 40 plus attacks on military personnel in the Middle East, you have to strike in Iran. If you want to make a difference. You cannot just continue to have strikes in Syria on warehouses, you actually have to cut off the head of the snake and the head of the snake is Iran and not simply their proxies.

In order for us to have a powerful response from America, we have to be in a position of strength. As President of the United States, my foreign policy is simple, you cannot negotiate with evil, you have to destroy it.

HOLT: All right, Senator Scott, thank you. Governor Christie, I want to get you to weigh in here.

CHRISTIE: Look Lester, these problems are so big and serious that the first thing I would say to Prime Minister Netanyahu is pretty simple, America is here no matter what it is you need at any time to preserve the state of Israel. Remember that Hamas' main goal is to get rid of Israel. Is to get Israel absolutely off the map, now there are three things I think I would say to him when he asked for advice. The first I would say is that it is absolutely your obligation to protect the territorial integrity of Israel. Secondly, to make sure you protect the security and the safety of your people. Every time something happens to compromise either one of those things, it creates greater unrest in the entire region.

Second, you must go in and make sure that Hamas can never do this again. The fact is that Israel and their intelligence community failed. They failed here and they failed the people of the state of Israel. And so we need to work closely and better together to make sure one, that they're degraded and two, that we know everything that's going on inside the Gaza Strip when it's going on so that something like this can't happen to kill 1400 individuals again. And the third thing is to keep your eye on the ball, make sure that we continue to isolate Iran, work with the reasonable nations in the Middle East, the other Arab nations who want to partner with you and make sure that we continue to isolate Iran so that their only friends in the world are the part of the evil foursome, China we Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

HOLT: Governor Christie, thank you very much and we're going to continue in this vein right now with a question from Matthew Brooks, the CEO of the Republican Jewish Coalition, a partner of the Republican National Committee in this debate, here it is.


Given attacks by Iranian backed proxy groups on US military bases in Syria and Iraq, attacks that have wounded approximately two dozen of our US servicemen. Do you support the use of military force by the United States against Iran?

HOLT: Governor Haley, would you please answer that?

HALEY: Yes, I'd first like to say they're five-inch heels and I don't wear them unless you can run in them.

RAMASWAMY: Well, we've got two of you on stage-

HOLT: [inaudible].

HALEY: The second thing that I'll say is I wear heels, they're not for a fashion statement, they're for ammunition. What we need to be doing for Iraq and Syria is first of all, the idea that our men and women could be targeted and that we've allowed almost 100 hits to happen under Biden's watch is unthinkable. We need to understand this is Iran giving the green light telling them what to do and we shouldn't be doing the tit for tat like what Joe Biden has done. We need to go and take out their infrastructure that they are using to make those strikes with so they can never do it again. Iran responds to strength, you punch them one and you punch them hard and they will back off. But what we don't need is Biden falling all over himself to get back in the Iran deal. Him giving $6 billion to get five hostages home, him telling Netanyahu now that he needs a pause or a ceasefire. We don't need him going and sitting there tiptoeing around Iran because he thinks they're going to do something.

You don't respond to an enemy and a terrorist with fear, you respond with strength. When you do that, that's when the world pays attention and that's when Iran stops.

HOLT: Thank you. Governor DeSantis, if I can continue with you. Just today the US launched another one of its limited airstrikes against targets in Syria this time Iranian linked facility, how far would you go militarily to hold Iran accountable?

DESANTIS: Well first Matt, thanks for your question and I appreciate what you've done over the last month. I know it's been very difficult for the community and appreciate you guys rallying together in difficult times. I actually served in Iraq back in the day and we had Al-Qaeda in Iraq, you had Shia militias that were funded by Iran that were killing 100s and 100s of US troops. And as commander-in-chief, I am not going to put our troops in harm's way unless you're willing to defend them with everything you have. Biden has a out there, they're sitting ducks, he's doing glancing blows, that's just inviting more attacks from the Iranians. I would say you harm a hair on the head of an American service member and you are going to have hell to pay. We are not just going to sit there and let our service members be sitting ducks. And that's true whether it's Iran or whether it's any country on the world. We have to be strong and we have to defend the people who defend us.

HOLT: All right, thank you, Governor. Now our second and final question from Matthew Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition. Please watch.


Jewish students across the country are threatened and under attack. What do you say to Jewish students on college campuses who feel unsafe given the dramatic rise in antisemitism? And what do you to say to university presidents and college presidents who have not met the moral clarity moment to forcefully condemn Hamas terrorism?

HOLT: Mr. Ramaswamy, would you like to take that one?

RAMASWAMY: Absolutely. I think the scourge of antisemitism across this country, including at places like my Alma Maters and places like Brooklyn Bridge in New York, it's sad to see, but here's what history teaches us. Antisemitism is a symptom of a deeper cancer in a country, in a society that is lost and we are lost. Several years ago when I wrote my first book, Woke Inc. I was talking about there were chanting death to America, death to white people, death to Christians, nobody was waking up back then. Now it's even bad now they're saying death to Israel and worse. So it is wrong, but we have to get to the root cause here. Now, I think it's really important that we do this through leadership, not censorship. Leadership means fill that void with purpose and meaning, dilute this wokeism and antisemitism to irrelevance These kids, they have no idea what the heck they're even talking about when they're siding with Hamas over Israel, they are fools.

But I also want to caution here, if we go the direction of Ron DeSantis or Nikki Haley, with whom I respectfully disagree on this issue, pro-censorship telling student groups to disband, mark my words soon they will say, if you question a vaccine and its side effects, you're a bio-terrorist soon, they will say that if you show up at a school board meeting, you're a domestic terrorist soon. If they say that J6 prisoners should be released, you're an insurrectionist terrorist. So that's where this road ends. We don't quash this with censorship because that creates a worse underbelly, we quell it through leadership by calling it out. These university administrators have lost their way and we need leadership at the top in the United States of America that restores our founding values and that has no place for this kind of anti-Semitic hate. That's where I stand while respecting our constitution.

HOLT: Your time is up. Senator Scott, let me get you to weigh in on what you just heard.

SCOTT: Well, let me just say to every single university president in America, federal funding is a privilege, not a right, number one. Number two, to every student who've come to our country on a visa to a college campus, your visa is a privilege, not a right. Number three, any campus that allows for antisemitism and hate, to allow students to encourage terrorism, mass murder and genocide, you should lose your federal funding today, period. To all the students on visas who are encouraging Jewish genocide, I would deport you from those campuses. We have to stand strong with our Jewish Americans. At the end of the day, we should not have our Jewish students in a library being told to hide on our streets in New York, a US citizen has the right to walk on the streets of America with no fear. They have the right to go to college campuses, go to class and not fear. We will restore that. I started working on antisemitism on college campuses in 2017 because even then there was a rise of antisemitism on college campuses, we must force the people off those campuses and frankly-

HOLT: Senator Scott, thank you. Let me-

SCOTT: ... out of our country.

HOLT: Let me turn to the governor DeSantis here. What do you think about what he just said?

DESANTIS: I was the first presidential candidate to say if you are here on a suit and visa as a foreign national, you're making common cause with Hamas, I'm canceling your visa and I'm sending you home, no questions asked. Second, I have friends here in Florida who their kids do not feel safe even going to university campus at all, outside of the state of Florida. You have Jewish students fleeing for their lives at Cooper Union. Joe Biden should have the Department of Justice on these college campuses and holding the universities accountable for civil rights violations, you should not have money going to these places. I already acted in Florida, we had a group students for Justice of Palestine. They said they are common cause with Hamas. They said, we're not just in solidarity, this is what we are. We deactivated them. We're not going to use state tax dollars to fund jihad, no way.

And what is Biden doing? Not only is he not helping the Jewish students who are being persecuted, he is launching an initiative to combat, so-called Islamophobia? No, it's the antisemitism that's spiraling out of control. That is what we have to confront. And as president, I can tell you this, we are not going to stand for this on college campuses any longer.

HOLT: All right, Governor, thank you. Let me turn to Governor Christie and considering what he just said, you led a state with a sizable Muslim population last month. As you know, a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy was killed in Illinois by his landlord. His mother was also stabbed more than a dozen times in what has been charged as a hate crime. What do you say to Muslim Americans who are also feeling afraid for their safety, right now?

CHRISTIE: Lester, I'm the only one in the state who's actually had experience in dealing with this. I was appointed by President Bush to be the US attorney in New Jersey on September 10th, 2001. And when I took over that job after the September 11th attacks, I had to deal with a situation in our state that was explosive. We're the most ethically diverse state in this country. And so first, we heard credible reports about Jewish students and synagogues being threatened in our state in the aftermath of 9/11. We made sure that we sent federal agents to those synagogues and we protected them and the same thing should be being done now.

At the very same time, I personally went from mosque to mosque in New Jersey and met with the leaders of those mosques and with the members of the mosques and I said, "The law enforcement is on your side to protect you regardless of your religion if you are going to comply with the law." And we developed fabulous relationships with Muslim Americans all across the state of New Jersey and we stopped any hate crimes that were going on either against Jewish Americans in New Jersey or Muslim Americans in New Jersey. It takes leadership, Lester, to know how to do this. You must work with both sides. Both sides need to know it, but let us never have a false moral equivalence between Hamas and Hezbollah and the Jewish people. The Jewish people stand for right and justice and Hamas and Hezbollah stand for death.

HOLT: Senator Christie, thank you. Ambassador Haley, what do you say to Americans who are simply afraid right now in this current environment that we're talking about?

HALEY: I think you look at the country and the country is all out of sorts. I think look at what these kids are dealing with on college campuses. What makes me so angry is not only do you have the kids barricaded in the library, they said they were going to shoot up the kosher dining hall. You've got kids dorm rooms who are being set on fire because they have something related to Israel on their doors. No person should ever feel in danger like this. And this is what I would say about our college presidents is if the KKK were doing this, every college president would be up in arms. This is no different. You should treat it exactly the same. Antisemitism is just as awful as racism and we've got to make sure they're protected.

And for everybody that's protesting on these college campuses in favor of Hamas, let me remind you something. Hamas said, "Death to Israel and death to America." They hate and would kill you too. And the idea that they're talking about genocide for the Jewish people, that's not the values of America. That's not us. We're better than that. We don't need to celebrate terrorists, we don't need to celebrate genocide. We don't need to celebrate violence towards anybody. We need to go back and soul search in our country and remember what we are about and we are about taking care of people, not going and making them live in fear because some other terrorist activity says they want to destroy them.

HOLT: Ambassador, thank you. Kristen.

WELKER: Lester, thank you. This is another question for the entire field so you'll all get a chance to respond, but Senator Scott, I'd like to start with you. The United States has given Ukraine financial and military support since the war began more than 600 days ago. President Zelensky told me on Sunday, if Russia isn't stopped now, "The price will be higher for the United States," and Americans would be forced to "send your sons and daughters to defend NATO countries." Senator Scott, where do you stand on more funding for Ukraine?

SCOTT: I certainly have been very supportive of Ukraine. I believe that ultimately we should make sure that the President of the United States states what is America's national vital interest in Ukraine. It is actually in degrading the Russian military. We've been very effective using our resources and our weaponry and the incredibly high price of Ukrainian blood to achieve that objective. Every day we get closer to the degradation of the Russian military, and that's good news. But the American people are frustrated that they do not have a president who reminds us and tells us, where's the accountability? How are those dollars being spent? We need those answers for us to continue to see the support for Ukraine.

And at the same time, I would say that a package that's been offered by the president for Ukraine and Israel, that's the wrong approach. We need to focus specifically on providing Israel with the $14 billion that they need so that we show the world that we are 100% undeniably standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel. And then as we turn away from that direct support for Israel, we should go to our southern border and close our southern border with the resources necessary. I believe that we have sleeper terrorist cells in America. Thousands of people have come from Yemen, Iran, Syria, and Iraq. If we are going to deal with the national security emergency at our border, we have to do it now.

WELKER: Senator Scott, thank you. But just to be very clear, if you were president, if you were in the Oval Office today, would you sign off on more military funding for Ukraine or would you discontinue it?

SCOTT: Bottom line is we have to first have the level of accountability that allows the American people to understand where the resources have gone, number one. Number two, after we have that responsibility taken care of and accountability, then we have an opportunity to look at the overall strategy that helps us to grade the Russian military while we use our resources. And frankly, keeping our NATO partners safe from the Russian military is absolutely essential. As you understand, Article 5 would require to support and to defend NATO, our troops in the ground. The fastest way for us to eliminate that possibility is for us to destroy possible the Russian military. By doing so, we actually achieve the objective of keeping our military home, and that's good news.

WELKER: Thank you, Senator Scott. Mr. Ramaswamy, are you persuaded by President Zelensky's urgent new plea? Where do you stand on more funding?

RAMASWAMY: I'm absolutely unpersuaded and I'm actually enjoying watching the Ukraine hawks quietly, delicately tiptoe back from their position as this thing has unwound into a disaster. The first half of this race, I was the only person standing for it. Now, they're actually quietly coming around to being more cautious as they should. Level with the American people here. Ukraine is not a paragon of democracy. This is a country that has banned 11 opposition parties. It has consolidated all media into one state TV media arm. That's not democratic. It has threatened not to hold elections this year unless the U.S. forks over more money. That is not democratic. It has celebrated a Nazi in its ranks, the comedian in cargo pants, a man called Zelensky. Doing it in their own ranks, that is not democratic.

More facts for you that you won't hear from the mainstream in either party or the mainstream media. The regions of Ukraine that are occupied by Russia right now, the Donbass, Luhansk, Donetsk, these are Russian-speaking regions that have not even been part of Ukraine since 2014, that other people probably couldn't name those provinces for you. Those are the hard facts. And so to frame this as some kind of battle between good versus evil, don't buy it. And I'd like the likes of the sharpest of the war hawks on Ukraine, Nikki Haley, to have some accountability and answer. Do you want to use U.S. taxpayer money to fund the banning of Christians? That is actually what's happening. They're using the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. They have banned them. The Ukrainian Parliament just did this last week supported by our dollars, and I think you owe it to the American people, Nikki, to at least this one time condemn-

WELKER: Mr. Ramaswamy, thank you. That's time.

RAMASWAMY: ... at least to condemn their banning of Christians.

WELKER: Mr. Ramaswamy, thank you.

RAMASWAMY: [inaudible] talking on both sides [inaudible].

WELKER: Mr. Ramaswamy, thank you. We ask the questions. Ambassador Haley-

RAMASWAMY: Well, she deserves to answer.

WELKER: ... what is your take on more funding for Ukraine?

HALEY: I'm telling you Putin and President Xi are salivating at the thought that someone like that could become president. They would love to see that.

RAMASWAMY: The fact of the matter is she doesn't answer the question.

HALEY: So this is what I will tell you is first of all let's remember-

RAMASWAMY: We're driving Russia into China's hands because of these foolish policies.

WELKER: Mr. Ramaswamy, you had your time to talk. The ambassador has the floor. Ambassador, please.

HALEY: Thank you. The first thing I'll tell you is we all remember what that thug did when he invaded Ukraine. We all know that half a million people have died because of Putin, and here is a freedom loving, pro-American country that is fighting for its survival and its democracy. No, I don't think we should give them cash. I think we should give them the equipment and the ammunition to win. And I'll tell you, if Biden had done it when they first asked for it, this war would be over.

But let's also remember this. When you left Afghanistan in shambles and left them with a ton of weapons and money, it's not that we left, it's how we left. When you look at Ukraine, don't think for a second, now everybody wants to move away from Ukraine, they'll want to move away from Israel a year from now. America can never be so arrogant to think we don't need friends. After 9/11, we needed a lot of friends. Now is the time to get partnerships. This unholy alliance between Russia, Ukraine and China is real. There is a reason the Taiwanese want us to support the Ukrainians. It's because they know that China's coming after them next. There is a reason Ukrainians want us to support Israelis because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins. We have to see the combination of the three.

WELKER: Ambassador, thank you. Governor Christie, what is your take and how long should Americans be expected to help fund the war in Ukraine?

CHRISTIE: Kristen, let's remember the last time that we turned our back on a shooting war in Europe. It bought us just a couple of years and then 500,000 Americans were killed in Europe to defeat Hitler. This is not a choice. This is the price we pay for being the leaders of the free world. And the fact is this alliance is not just with Russia and China. Governor Haley knows this. Iran is in the middle of this as well, and so is North Korea and they are all working to support Russia right now. And the reason they're doing it is because dictators work together. People who believe in democracy work together. We must stand with all of those that are standing up for democracy and freedom in this world.

And by the way, let's remind everybody of this. In 1992, this country made a promise to Ukraine. We said if you return nuclear missiles that were part of the old Soviet Union to Russia and they invade you, we will protect you. An American promise that's 31 years old is no different than American promise that's made tonight on this stage. We need to stand by it. And those of us who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

RAMASWAMY: I'd like to respond.

CHRISTIE: And the absolute, the absolute giving in to dictators, which is being suggested on this stage just shows the immaturity of the approach.

RAMASWAMY: I'd like to respond to that.

WELKER: Governor Christie, thank you. Governor DeSantis, I'd like you to weigh in on this idea. Are you concerned that this could become a wider war if Putin is not stopped now?

DESANTIS: Well, any suggestion by Zelensky or anyone else that we're going to eventually have U.S. troops there, I can tell the American people when I'm president, that will not happen. We are not going to send your sons and daughters to Ukraine. I am going to send troops to our southern border. If you look at the threats that we face, terrorists have come in through our southern border. I'm going to shut it down. I'm going to have the military and I'm going to deport the people who've come, particularly under Biden, who've come from the Middle East, come from all these places.

Now, Biden wants $105 billion. 60, most of that's Ukraine, including some of it going to pay pensions for bureaucrats and salaries. That is a totally ridiculous use of American tax dollars. He says he has money for border to try to do, and the media repeat that. When you look at it, what most of the money is money to process more illegal aliens into this country. How is that solving the problem? That's making the problem worse. And what does he do for the Indo-Pacific? A pittance. That is the top threat that we face. We need to bring this war to an end. We need the Europeans to step up and do their fair share and we need to get serious about the top threat that this country faces, which is the Chinese Communist Party.

WELKER: Thank you, Governor. Thank you.

RAMASWAMY: If I may respond to the Ukraine question.

HEWITT: In fact, we are going to go from the hot wars in Ukraine and Gaza and Israel to what many people are calling the new Cold War with China. And I remind the audience that it's important for our visitors at home to be able to hear you and especially for the people in Beijing to hear you. Many Republicans believe that the Chinese Communist Party and General Secretary Xi is an existential threat to the United States. The flashpoint is Taiwan. For decades and decades, the American military, but primarily the United States Navy has deterred an attack from China to the island state of Taiwan, that Ronald Reagan's navy of 600 ships is gone. Now the question to you is, and I'll start with you Ambassador Haley, because you were in President Trump's cabinet, his goal was a 355 ship Navy. That's what he pushed for. He got to 300, it's now at 291. Is that big enough to deter and if necessary, defeat an invasion of Taiwan?

HALEY: China has the largest naval fleet in the world. They have 350 ships. They'll have 400 ships in two years. We won't even have 350 ships in two decades. China has built up their military. It's not just land, air, and sea. They're doing cyber, they're doing artificial intelligence, they're doing space. America needs to modernize our military. We need to do everything we can. The first thing is you go and you make sure you have the backs of Ukraine. That's why the Taiwanese want us to support Ukraine because they know that sends the biggest message to China.

The second thing is we go to China and we start being tough on them. No more sales of our American soil to China and let's take back what they've already stolen. Then you go to the universities. No more having millions of dollars go to our universities. Then we will go and end all formal trade relations with China until they stop murdering Americans from fentanyl, something Ron has yet to say that he's going to do. And then we modernize our military. When we strengthen our military, when we modernize it with the focus of cyber, artificial intelligence, and space, when we make sure that we have the backs of our friends, whether it's in Israel, whether it's in Ukraine, and we should be arming Taiwan. Make sure they have the equipment they need, make sure they have the training they need now. There is nothing China fears more than knowing that America will have Taiwan's back. Let's make sure that we show it by making sure they have the equipment they need.

HEWITT: Governor DeSantis, my question is specifically about the Navy. It's at 291. It's going to go down perhaps as low as 280. Is it enough? And what would you build if you were going to build more?

DESANTIS: Not enough. We have to have the ability to back up a strategy of denial of President Xi's ambitions. And if China's able to be the world's leading superpower that will affect you and your family in ways that are going to be very bad. They will export authoritarianism all around the world as the cost of doing business. They will impose things like social credit scores and internet monitoring. So this is to this generation what the Soviet Union was to the post-World War II generation. I've already released a plan. We're going to get to 355 ships at the end of the first term, 385 ships at the end of the second term, but we're going to have a path to 600 ships over the next 20 years.

I think the future of freedom is going to be determined in the Indo-Pacific. We have a strategy, not just military, but decoupling from the economy and fighting them here at home with our cultural. Ambassador Haley said somehow I wasn't doing. She welcomed them into South Carolina, gave them land near a military base, wrote the Chinese ambassador a love letter saying what a great friend they were. That was like their number one way to do economic development. In Florida, I banned China from buying land in this state and we kicked out on our universities and we kicked the Confucius institutes out of our universities. We've recognized the threat and we've acted swiftly and decisively.

HEWITT: Senator Scott, you've been in the Congress since 2011. Defense spending has fallen over that entire period of time. Where are we going to get the money and what would you build and what kind of ships to deter China from attacking Taiwan?

SCOTT: Well, two major problems with the question. Number one, we do not have currently a defense industrial bank to allow us to have the kind of production that we need in order to keep America safe. Frankly, if we are not prepared to fight and engage in three continents at the same time, think about where we are today. In the Middle East, we are in the midst of trying to back our strongest ally. In Eastern Europe, we've seen our resources and our weaponry help degrade the Russian military. The Indo-Pacific, we have real challenges. The long-term threat, the long-term threat is China. Immediate threat is our southern border.

In order for us to have the military to fight three different continents at the exact same time, we are going to have to invest heavily in our military, but we're also going to have to invest heavily in an industrial base so that we can hit our objectives from a military perspective, not only with our ships, but also with our planes. We are so old as a military that in order for us to recalibrate, we're going to have to invest. One of the things I do in my Made in America strategy is we create more than 4 million new jobs by having high-tech manufacturing come back to America, decoupling from China so that we focus our attention on creating that industrial revolution that will be necessary for us to achieve the goal of having a military that is ready to be lethal and come home safely.

HEWITT: Thank you, Senator. Mr. Ramaswamy, I'm looking for specifics. What would you build? Where would you build it? When would they be in the water? How big would the fleet get?

RAMASWAMY: First answer is end the toxic divest to invest program. For people who don't know about that, we're decommissioning ships in the South China Sea. The foundation of war is economics. Rebuild our defense industrial base at home. But here's the dirty little secret. Our actual defense industrial base depends on China for the supply chain, for the F-35 jets, for the ships that we're building. Think about this, why are we stockpiling that if it isn't to actually be strong against our enemy, China? We depend on them for that, just like we depend on them for pharmaceuticals, just like we depend on them for semiconductors. So here's why we can't get tough with China. It's because we depend on them for our modern way of life and we have to declare economic independence from our enemy.

That's the Declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson at the age of 33 would've signed. And today if you were alive, that's the Declaration of Independence that I will sign as the next president. I do have to recognize that Ron DeSantis was correct about acknowledging Nikki Haley's tough talk when she was ambassador to the UN, calling China our great friend, bringing the CCP to South Carolina. What he left out though, Ron, and be honest about it, there was a lobbying based exemption in that bill that allowed Chinese nationals to buy land within a 20-mile radius of a military base lobbied for by one of your donors. So I think we have to call a spade a spade. We need politicians who are independent of the forces that increase our dependence on China.

My message to Xi Jinping is this, you are done buying land in this country. You will not donate to universities in this country. U.S. businesses won't expand into the Chinese market until you play by the same set of rules.

HEWITT: Mr. Ramaswamy, quick follow up-

RAMASWAMY: You're kicked out of the WTO and you actually have to have accountability for the COVID-19 pandemic financially, which unleashed hell on the world. We have to hold them accountable.

HEWITT: Mr. Ramaswamy, do you have a number and a plan?

RAMASWAMY: I think that we need to increase our naval capacity by at least 20% over the course of the next several years and be able to meet our AUKUS agreement standards. Right now, we are at risk of not even being able to meet our AUKUS standards with Australia and the UK. So what we need to do is have a plan that reverses the trajectory of the divest to invest program by 20% over the next three years.

HEWITT: Governor Christie?

CHRISTIE: My first observation, Hugh, is that nobody answers [inaudible]. And my second observation is these three in the middle think they're the enemy. I know China is the enemy and that's what we should be focused on. So let's be really clear. The nuclear submarines in this United States Navy is the greatest deterrent to Chinese aggression, and that is the first place I would go to increase American naval power. Our nuclear submarines are able to move stealthily, quietly, and effectively. And if we are going to deter China from invading Taiwan, the only way we're going to do it is to make sure that they don't know whether how many nuclear submarines from the United States of America are in the South China Sea and in that area and ready to strike on them if they decide to move on Taiwan.

And so we as our first priority, need to go directly to our nuclear sub-program, Hugh, and we need to increase it drastically. That would be priority number one. Ships would come next, but to me the ships are secondary choice here. The submarines are the single most important thing that we could be using to deter China. But the other thing we could do to deter China is to let them know that the blood money they're spending for Russia in Ukraine right now will not be effective. That we send Putin home with his tail between his legs and make them understand that the same fate waits for them if they decide to move towards Taiwan with a more aggressive nuclear subprogram, we'll be able to make that threat real.

HEWITT: Thank you, Governor. We're going to take a brief pause now and we'll be back to the Republican Presidential Primary Debate. Please stay tuned.

[commercial break]

HOLT: And welcome back to tonight's NBC News Republican Presidential Debate. Once again, here's Hugh Hewitt.

HEWITT: Thank you, Lester. We're going to stay on China and we're going to talk specifically about TikTok. Last week, Congressman Mike Gallagher, who is chairman of the House Bipartisan Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, published a long essay on TikTok following the flooding of pro Hamas propaganda under TikTok accounts across the United States. Chairman Gallagher called it, "Shocking." He called the app, "Predatory, controlled by America's preeminent adversary, one used to push propaganda and divide America, its spyware," he said, "A means of surveillance." Governor Christie, do you agree with Chairman Gallagher? And if so, would you ban or force the sale of TikTok?

CHRISTIE: I agree 100% with Chairman Gallagher. And let me say this, TikTok is not only spyware, it is polluting the minds of American young people all throughout this country and they're doing it intentionally. And when you saw what happened in the last few weeks with all of this anti-Semitic, horrible stuff that their algorithms were pushing out at a gargantuan rate, this is China trying to further divide the United States of America. And this is one of the big failings among many of the Trump administration. He talked tough about TikTok. I heard him do it many times, but when it came down to it, he did not ban them when he could have and should have. And now since then, we've had an additional nearly six years of this type of poison be put out throughout the United States, even putting aside the spine, which we know is going on in the theft of American personal data and information.

So in my first week as president, we would ban TikTok. They want to go ahead and sell it, let them go ahead and sell it. But I'll tell you another reason we would do it. Facebook's not in China, X is not in China. They're not permitting a free flow of information to the Chinese people from our social media companies, yet we just open the door and let them do what they're doing. TikTok should be banned because they are poisoning American minds and I would do it week one.

HEWITT: Thank you, Governor. I want to go to Governor DeSantis. Would you ban or force the sale of TikTok regardless of whether or not China allowed American apps to operate in China?

DESANTIS: Yes, I think that China's the top threat we face. They've been very effective at infiltrating different parts of our society. So my policy on China and the Chinese Communist Party is very simple, we win, they lose. And in order to do that, it's not just military, it's economic and it's cultural. And as the dad of a six, five, and a three-year-old, I'm concerned about the data that they're getting from our young people and what they're doing to pollute the minds of our young people. These kids get these devices and they have a mind of their own. And I know a lot of parents are looking, it's hard to even keep it out. China's obviously the most extreme, but this is happening with other things. So we are going to do that and we are going to make sure to protect the American people. It's a full spectrum approach to be able to fend China off. Yes, military deterrence, yes, economic decoupling, but also their role in our culture. If we ignore that, we're not going to be able to win the fight.

HEWITT: Thank you, Governor. Ambassador Haley, speak to the parents out there. There are probably TikTok apps on half the phones in this auditorium.

HALEY: No, I'm going to speak to the fact that two people hit me and you didn't let me respond. So let's first talk about the fact that they want to talk about the Chinese land from 10 years ago. Yes, I brought a fiberglass company 10 years ago to South Carolina. But Ron, you are the chair of your economic development agency that as of last week said Florida is the ideal place for Chinese businesses. Not only that, you have a company that is manufacturer of Chinese military planes. You have it. They are expanding two training sites at two of your airports now, one which is 12 miles away from a naval base. Then you have another company that's expanding and they were just invaded by the Department of Homeland Security. So mine was 10 years ago-

DESANTIS: You gave them stuff, I didn't give them anything.

HALEY: ... yours was six months ago. What's your story?

DESANTIS: And I abolished that agency that she's talking about. Enterprise Florida, we abolished it and of course we banned China from buying land.

HALEY: He scrubbed the website last week. Go check.

DESANTIS: Not exactly a great recruiting pitch if you're banning them from purchasing land. So we stood up [inaudible].

HALEY: You scrubbed your website last week.

HEWITT: Thank you, Ambassador Haley. Mr. Ramaswamy, we've talked about this. You campaign on TikTok. How do you get TikTok ban if you use it?

RAMASWAMY: Well, I want to laugh at why Nikki Haley didn't answer your question, which is about looking at families in the eye. In the last debate, she made fun of me for actually joining TikTok while her own daughter was actually using the app for a long time. So you might want to take care of your family first.

HALEY: Leave my daughter out of your voice before.

RAMASWAMY: [inaudible] adult daughter. The next generation of Americans are using it, and that's actually the point. You have her supporters propping her up. That's fine. Here's the truth.

HALEY: You're just scum.

RAMASWAMY: The easy answer is actually to say that we're just going to ban one app. We got to go further. We have to ban any U.S. company actually transferring U.S. data to the Chinese. Here's a story most people don't know. Airbnb hands over U.S. user data to the CCP. Now that's a U.S. owned company. So this is the problem when you have Republicans that temporarily go the way the winds blow and now it's popular to talk tough on China. When she was UN ambassador called them, literally her words, not mine, "Our great friend." You can't be fair-weather fans of the right policy, get to the root cause. Even U.S. companies in Silicon Valley are regularly doing it. Cut the virtue signaling. The fact of the matter is Democrats are on TikTok today. The only person, one of the few people who is putting up content the way the actual algorithms work, speaking for pro-Israel views or others is me [inaudible]-

HEWITT: Ambassador Haley.

RAMASWAMY: ... more Republicans will join it. But stop U.S. companies from turning over data to Chinese companies. That's the real answer [inaudible].

HEWITT: The moderators like Kristen don't get to respond to personal attacks, but you do.

HALEY: Thank you very much. When he talks about me praising China, he doesn't know the fact that the reason China was praised was because I negotiated with China and Russia the largest set of sanctions against North Korea in a generation. That is literally the reason North Korea stopped testing ballistic missiles.

So I said China did good on their part. That was a negotiation you could never do.

RAMASWAMY: You said they were our great friends, is what you said Nikki. Those are your words, not mine. And so just own up to it.

HALEY: You would never have been able to get that negotiation done.

RAMASWAMY: You can change your mind, that's allowed, but don't Lie to the people about what you've said or what you've done in South Carolina.

HALEY: I have fought against China my entire career at the United Nations.

RAMASWAMY: You have brought them to South Carolina, Ron is right about that.

HALEY: Every day I fought China.

RAMASWAMY: Look at the actual hard facts, she brought them to this country.

HALEY: And I did it by making sure that no one could get any agency heads in UN, I did it by making sure that we called them out on human rights. I did it by making sure that we held them accountable on everything that they did. That's the reason we got out of Human rights Council. That's the reason we called them out and there's not been a day I haven't stopped hitting China.

HEWITT: Thank you. Senator Scott, it is your turn.

HALEY: Nikki, [inaudible] policy experience, with millions made afterwards.

HEWITT: Mr Ramaswamy. Everybody else is hanging onto the rules here, Mr. Ramaswamy. Senator Scott.

SCOTT: Thank you. We should... I appreciate y'all clapping for me already. This is wonderful answer. Love this. Without any questions. What we should do is ban TikTok, period. Now we saw under former President Trump, he tried to ban TikTok twice, but was struck down by our federal courts. If you cannot ban TikTok, you should eliminate the Chinese presence on the app, period. We also should provide, and my parents Bill of rights, we give parents the opportunity to give their kids permission under 14 to be on those apps. I think it's incredibly important for us as Americans to take back control of the information, especially of our kids. Where does it go? We should know that. One of the ways that we get to know that is by having a parental consent. But if we can eliminate TikTok, that is a first step.

But it's not just TikTok. China continues to spy on our kids, but they're also buying our farmlands. We talked about this several times there. We have to make sure that we use the tools that are in our toolkit to stop China from buying farmland near our bases. The third thing we have to do is make sure that they stop stealing our intellectual property. They're literally stealing our IP to compete against us. My administration, we stopped that day one and we start making sure that we create six figure income for jobs made in America through my strategy.

HEWITT: Thank you Senator. Kristen?

WELKER: Hugh, thank you so much. We're now going to talk about Venezuela, where millions have fled political and economic turmoil. Many Venezuelan immigrants are settling right here in Florida. Former President Trump and President Biden have taken different approaches to Nicolas Maduro's regime with little result. Former President Trump put economic pressure on Venezuela and backed one of Maduro's rivals. President Biden temporarily eased sanctions to encourage electoral reforms. Governor DeSantis, do you see the political situation in Venezuela as a threat to the United States and what would your approach be?

DESANTIS: We should never rely on Venezuela for oil like Biden has had to go beg. I'm going to unleash all of America's energy potential on day one. I'm taking all the Biden regulations, the Green New Deal, ripping it up and throwing it in the trash can where it belongs. We're going to lower your gas prices. We're going to create jobs, we're going to lower energy costs, but we're also going to be more energy independent and secure. We'll choose Midland over Moscow. We'll choose the Marcellus over the Muellers and we'll choose Bakken over Beijing, that is good for America's national security. Biden's Green New Deal, that's good for Venezuela, it's good for Russia, it's good for Iran and it's good for China. So I would turn the screws on the Venezuelan regime. I think it's a corrupt, dictatorial regime and we should never go hat in hand begging for oil from them.

WELKER: Just to be clear, would you reimpose the sanctions?

DESANTIS: Yes, absolutely.

WELKER: Ambassador Haley, what would your approach be?

HALEY: I stood on the Simon Bolivar Bridge and watched thousands of Venezuelans cross for hours in the hot sun, holding their babies to get the one meal they might get that day, going from Venezuelan to Columbia. They were fleeing socialism and begging for freedom. We need to make sure that we do everything we can to sanction Maduro. We shouldn't be getting dirty oil and Biden just gave 500,000 Venezuelans temporary priority status, which is just going to have more of them come.

But on the energy side, it cracks me up that Ron continues to do this. He has opposed fracking. He's opposed drilling. Last time he said it wasn't true and everybody found out that it was true. He opposed it before Florida voters even voted on it.

DESANTIS: That's not true.

HALEY: He was praised by the Sierra Club and you're trying to make up for it and act like you weren't a liberal when it comes to the environment. You were, you always have been, just own it if that's the case, but don't keep saying you're something that you're not.

DESANTIS: Let me respond to that.

WELKER: Quick response Governor.

DESANTIS: So our whole energy plan, you can't get the shale without fracking. We are absolutely going to frack, but I disagree with Nikki Haley. I don't think it's a good idea to drill in the Florida Everglades and I know most Floridians agree with me.

HALEY: You banned fracking.

WELKER: Thank you very much. Lester?

HOLT: [inaudible] thank you. Let's turn to one of the biggest issues for voters, that of course is the economy. This is a question that will go to all of you. An Iowa voter recently told NBC news, "How am I going to make sure my pantry is stocked without breaking the bank?" You've all said the best way to deal with rising prices is to cut government spending, but that would take time to play out and Americans are struggling right now.

Senator Scott, I'll start with you. What would you do the moment you take office to help Americans manage the cost of living? So we're talking about short-term here.

SCOTT: My mother was a single mother who raised me and my brother in a very challenging economic situation. The first thing I can tell you is that when your gas prices are 40% higher right now than they were just a little over two years ago, that's not a problem for my mama, that was a crisis. The first thing I would do as President of the United States as I would sign the XL Keystone Pipeline and start seeing resources flow.

Second thing I would do is make sure that there's certainty and predictability so that those folks who have the leases in our country would have the certainty and predictability to go ahead and become energy independent. We should focus not just on being energy independent, we should focus on being energy dominant. America is the home to more energy resources than any other country on the planet. We can reduce the price of energy, we can reduce the price of food and the price of electricity if we focus on my build here, don't borrow from China plan. That is embedded in The Made in America strategy, creates 10 million new jobs in three different areas. One is innovation, second is the high-tech manufacturing and the third is the energy economy. We have an opportunity as Americans to actually export the surplus energy that we create in our nation and disconnect from China and from murderous dictators and tyrants around the world.

HOLT: Your time is up, but let me just follow up.

SCOTT: Sure.

HOLT: The idea of pumping gas, of turning on pipelines, that doesn't make gas cheaper that day. I'm talking about you become president, what can you do specifically to help people feel better about their situation or be better with their situation?

SCOTT: Well actually it does, to be honest with you. The way that the economy works is it works on the ability to anticipate excess supply versus the demand. When that happens, confidence drives our prices down because we know there's going to be a greater surplus. When you allow for those who have leases to actually start drilling to start using those leases for more energy excavation, you put our economy in the strongest position, and as a result of that, prices start going down. That is the kind of economy that as President of the United States, I would lead this nation to making sure that we first use the resources in our own country, and not going outside of our country in order to achieve our objective. Proverbs 22:7 reminds us that the borrower is slave to the lender. We have become an indentured servant too often to countries like China. By having an energy economy, we start allowing this nation to once again, return as the City on the hill.

HOLT: Senator. Senator, thank you. Let me ask the same question to Governor DeSantis. You ticked off a number of things a moment ago, but some specific examples of ways that would put people on a better economic footing right away.

DESANTIS: So I started off working minimum wage jobs. I did $6 an hour an electrician's assistant. I worked all kinds of things to be able to get through school and I did that because I believed in America, if you work hard and get the most out of your God-given ability, you can get ahead. And what's happening now, many of you are working hard and you're falling further and further behind. I've met people in Iowa, New Hampshire and all across the country who've talked about all the burdens that they're facing with the rising prices and I've heard from multiple people the same story. When they go grocery shopping, what they now do is they figure out what they have to take out of the cart once it's ringing up, because it rings up so much faster and so much higher at the cash register that they can't afford the full cart of groceries anymore.

We have to restore the American Dream in this country. What can you do on day one? Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to take all the executive orders, the regulations, everything involving Bidenomics, I'm going to rip it up and I'm going to throw it in the trashcan on day one where it belongs. That is going to give the economy breathing room and I'm also going to reign in the Federal Reserve. They have helped create, with their reckless monetary policy, what we have faced since the COVID-19 pandemic. They botched it, Congress botched it, both parties are to blame. Fed should focus on stable prices, they are not an economic central planner for the American people.

HOLT: Governor, thank you. Mr. Ramaswamy, weigh in on this.


HOLT: Ways that you can improve people's financial condition in the short term?

RAMASWAMY: Right, and as a CEO, the economic question is core to my vision and policy prescription for this country. Increase the supply of everything. It's the law of supplies and demand. Increase the supply of energy, that brings down the cost of energy, grows the economy. Drill, frack, burn coal, embrace nuclear. Increase the supply of labor in this country. Stop using our taxpayer money to pay people more to stay at home instead of to go to work. Increase the supply of housing. People don't talk about this one in the Republican party. The land use restrictions are constricting the supply of housing. That's making housing more expensive for ordinary Americans across this country. So that's the true answer and I think it takes a CEO in the White House who actually understands this to get this done, because Americans at home, they know that Bidenomics is a lie. Prices are going up, interest rates and mortgages to buy your home are going up, but wages have remained flat. That's the hard diagnosis for our economy.

And this is about more than just our economy, I say this as a member of my generation. I'm 38 years old. I'm the youngest person ever to run for US president as a Republican. The reason my generation has lost our sense of national pride in part is because people in my generation feel like the American Dream isn't available to them. And part of the reason why is we've burdened them, with four year college degrees that did not serve their headstart on the American Dream. People will be more proud of a country if we're all making more money in that country. This is how we revive national pride and our identity and it will take a CEO in the White House, with zero based budgeting by the way to take on the federal debt, to get this job done.

SCOTT: Mr Ramaswamy, thank you. Let me turn To Governor Christie on that.

CHRISTIE: Well look, Lester part of the entire premise of the question, and I agree with Tim on this, is absolutely energy is the key to this because it drives every one of those other prices. Now food gets to your grocery store, it gets trucked and those truckers have to pay for fuel for the higher fuel prices. And when you go ahead and you tell people we are going to unleash every bit of American energy, every bit of its potential, what happens in the futurist markets, the prices go down, because those people who are believing that the Biden program will continue are the ones who are bidding this up. And let me tell you the other place that's bidding it up, in the Middle East. And so if you don't believe that making sure that Israel, and that Israel situation that's going on right now isn't resolved and resolved quickly as President of the United States, and bring stability back, that will also not permit countries like Saudi Arabia and others to be able to jack their prices as well.

And what they say is in response to a crisis, when it's really what it's in response to is putting more money in their pockets. When they have an American president who knows that Israel must be defended, not with humanitarian pauses and not with suggestions for ceasefire, but with letting them know we will supply them with everything they need, that will also bring stability to the market. Energy is the key to bringing this down. It's what every American family needs when they turn on their lights, fill up their car and go to the grocery store, and we need to do that first and foremost. That's the short-term answer.

HOLT: Governor Christie, thank you. Ambassador Haley, let me come at this from a slightly different direction. Americans in rural communities are being especially squeezed by inflation right now. An Iowa State University study found that last year inflation cost rural households about an extra $5,000. How would you specifically help rural Americans who are suffering right now Ambassador?

HALEY: Well, I'm a product of rural America, I grew up in rural South Carolina, and I can tell you what we're seeing now in America is the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. We have to go and start beefing up the middle class and the first thing I would do is I'll eliminate the federal gas and diesel tax in this country. We'll cut taxes on the middle class, but we have to stop the spending binge that's happening by Republicans and Democrats in Congress. I will make sure, one, we claw back the $500 billion of unspent COVID dollars that are out there. Instead of 87,000 IRS agents going after middle America, we'll go after the hundreds of billions of dollars of COVID fraud that exist, $1 out of every $7. We'll stop the spending, we'll stop the borrowing, we'll eliminate the earmarks and I'll veto any spending bill that doesn't go back to pre-COVID levels. That will cut trillions and allow us to be safe.

We also need to be, not energy independent, energy dominant. We are blessed with resources, let's do it. But the reason no one should give you a number Hugh on the amount of ships in the Navy, is because in a few years our interest expense is going to be more than our defense budget. So no one can give you that number realistically without first tackling what's happening with the financial situation. It would be a false number to give you that. We have got to understand this is a crisis, it is a national security concern. If we don't deal with what's going to happen with that interest expense in a few years, we're going to look like Japan, and we can't let that happen. The strong dollar matters.

HOLT: Ambassador, thank you very much. Kristen?

WELKER: Americans could see their Social Security benefits drastically cut in the next decade because the program is running out of money. Former President Trump has said quote, "Under no circumstances should Republicans cut entitlements." Governor Christie, first to you, you have proposed raising the retirement age for younger Americans. What would that age be specifically and would you consider making any other reforms to Social Security?

CHRISTIE: Sure, and we have to deal with this problem. Now look, if we raise the retirement age a few years for folks that are in their thirties and forties, I have a son who's in the audience tonight who's 30 years old. If he can't adjust to a few year increase in Social Security retirement age over the next 40 years, I got bigger problems with him than his Social Security payments. And the fact is we need to be realistic about this. There are only three things that go into determining whether Social Security can be solvent or not. Retirement age, eligibility for the program in general and taxes. That's it. We are already overtaxed in this country and we should not raise those taxes. But on eligibility also, I don't know if out there tonight and if you're watching Warren, I don't know if Warren Buffett is collecting Social Security, but if he is, shame on you. You shouldn't be taking the money.

There are a lot of programs in this country that we all pay for that we don't get a direct benefit from. Food stamps is one of them. I've never, fortunately in my life, ever had me or my family on food stamps. But I'm glad it's there so that no one in this country goes to bed hungry at night if they have availability to that program. But I don't get a direct benefit. The fact is on Social Security, remember why it was established. It was established as a safety net program to make sure that no one would grow old in this country in poverty. That's what we got to get back to. Rich people should not be collecting Social Security.

WELKER: Governor, can you give me a specific age? 69 70, what would the age be?

CHRISTIE: No, look, that's going to be a part of a negotiation with Congress, Kirsten, and hell, I'm not going to start negotiating until I get there.

WELKER: All right. Ambassador Haley, let me have you weigh in on this because you said in June that you would be open to raising the retirement age. Have you determined what that age would be specifically and what other reforms are you looking at?

HALEY: So first of all, any candidate that tells you that they're not going to take on entitlements, is not being serious. Social Security will go bankrupt in 10 years, medicare will go bankrupt in eight. Right now you have Ron and Trump joining Biden and Pelosi saying they're not going to change or do any sort of entitlement reform. What we need to do is keep our promises. Those that have been promised should keep it. But for like my kids in their twenties, you go and you say we're going to change the rules, you change the retirement age for them. Instead of cost of living increases, we should go to increases based on inflation. We should limit benefits on the wealthy. Bernie markets can tell you he hates getting that check, limit the benefits on the wealthy. And then expand Medicare advantage plans. Seniors love that and let's make sure we do that so that they can have more competition. That's how we'll deal with entitlement reform and that's how we'll start to pay down this debt.

WELKER: And can you give me a specific age? Have you determined the age?

HALEY: Again, you have to work with... Kris, what I can tell you is it's going to be those in their twenties just coming into the system and it should reflect more of life expectancy. It doesn't do that now.

WELKER: All right, Mr. Ramaswamy, have you determined if you would touch entitlements and Social Security? What, if any, reforms are you looking at?

RAMASWAMY: So this is really important right now. We're working within the last window I believe we will have, to actually fix this problem while still leaving Social Security and Medicare benefits for current seniors intact. I'll tell you how. The other candidates assume, like Nikki, that it can't be done, and on her math she's right about it. But her math assumes $7 trillion of our $33 trillion national debt, going to fight wars like in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Minus that, our national debt would be $26 trillion right now.

Then you go to zero based budgeting which I've proposed. As a CEO, it's how I've run businesses, it's how many CEOs run businesses. Don't use last year's budget as the baseline. Start with zero as the baseline and then ask what's actually necessary. 75% headcount reduction? Yes, that is severe. In the number of federal employees in the Washington DC bureaucracy. Shut down redundant agencies that should not exist. Deliver economic growth as a positive tailwind. I think we can get to three, four, maybe even 5% GDP growth if we really take the regulatory shackles off of our economy.

And against that backdrop, I believe this is our last best window to be able to take care of our national debt problem through those severe measures, including sacrificing the foreign wars that many blood-thirsty members of both parties have a hunger for. That's the one secret for how we're going to be able to do this, and that requires discipline. So we can't have the first conversation we were having, sending foreign aid willy-nilly to countries whose national debt per capita is less than ours.

WELKER: Thank you, Mr. Ramaswamy.

RAMASWAMY: But if we do this correctly, I think this is our last window and it'll take a CEO from the next generation to do it.

WELKER: Thank you. Thank you very much. Senator Scott, weigh in here. What are you looking at to keep Social Security sustainable?

SCOTT: The bottom line is a simple one. We have to grow our economy and cut our spending. Let me just say to my mama and to every other mama or grandfather receiving Social Security, as President of the United States I will protect your Social Security. The fact is that we're spending today about $1.1 trillion on Social Security, about $750 billion on Medicare, about $300 billion on Medicaid, about $400 billion on veterans benefits, $1.7 trillion on annual appropriations. If we're going to actually tame this tiger, the way you do it is not by picking on seniors who have paid into a program that deserve their money coming back out to them. The way you deal with it is, number one, you have to grow your economy. My plan, Made in America, creates 10 million new jobs, grows our economy at 5%. By doing so, you add trillions of dollars of economic activity and billions of dollars to your treasury.

Number two, you have to cut taxes. When we cut taxes in 2017, I wrote the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Everybody said, "Well guess what? Revenue will go down." Well in 2018, after we wrote it in 2017, what happened? Revenue went up by 3% and the next year it went up by another 3%. So what we know is that the Laffer Curve still works, for the lower the tax, the higher the revenue. And finally, if we're going to deal with it, we have to take our annual appropriations back to pre-2020, pre-COVID levels of spending, which would save us about a half a trillion dollars in the next budget window. By doing that, we deal with Social Security and our mandatory spending.

WELKER: Senator, thank you. Thank you, Senator. Very quickly, would you raise the retirement age? Would you be open to raising the retirement age or do you rule that out?

SCOTT: All you have to do is go to a farm in Iowa and watch the hard work and the dedication.

WELKER: Yes or no though, Senator?

SCOTT: You and I are having conversation.

WELKER: Yes or no, though?

SCOTT: My answer is no. But going... listen to this though, before you go on. Thank you. The fact of the matter is that the more physical your labor, a year or two or three more is actually challenging to the physical body. You and I might have a different perspective, but for those farmers, they're working night and day.

WELKER: Thank you. Thank you Senator, I appreciate it. Governor DeSantis finally to you, would you be open to raising the retirement agent and how would you keep Social Security sustainable?

DESANTIS: Well look as governor of Florida, I know a few people on Social Security and I know it's important. My grandmother lived till 91 and Social Security was their sole source of income, and that's true for a lot of seniors throughout this country. So what I'd say to seniors at America, promise made, promise kept. I understand what you're going through with the rising prices and you need that Social Security check. So we'll make sure to get that done. What can you do to help shore up Social Security? One of the things that's causing problems is the inflation. We have to reduce inflation. When you have higher inflation, the seniors get a cost of living adjustment, which means the program's spending more, but it doesn't cover the increase in the actual inflation rate. We also do need to get to at least 3% growth, you're never going to be able to have issues be able to solve the budget without that. But I would note this, Congress for decades took money from Social Security. Social Security would have more tax revenue that it put out. They would take it and then they'd write an IOU to Social Security. Congress has a lot of dirty hands on this. I'm going to force Congress to stop spending so much money.

And one thing we have to talk about, the retirement age is just something that's changed in the last four or five years. Life expectancy in the United States is declining in this country.

WELKER: So Governor, yes or no? Would you raise it? Would you raise the retirement age?

DESANTIS: When life expectancy is declining? I don't see how you could raise it the other direction. So it's one thing to peg it on life expectancy, but we have had a significant decline in life expectancy in this country and that's just a fact.

WELKER: So you rule it out. All right. Governor DeSantis, thank you. Thank you candidates, and we will be right back after a quick break from Miami, Florida.

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HOLT: Welcome back to tonight's NBC News Republican Presidential Debate. Once again, here's Salem Radio's Hugh Hewitt.

HEWITT: Thank you Lester. When NBC News talks to voters, when I talk to voters every day, they all say that the border is a top issue. It can mean a lot of different things. It can mean 2 million people who crossed illegally last year. It can mean more than 150 arrests of people on the terror watch list. It can mean the burden on states from having migrants move into their states from the southwestern border. But I want to talk about opioids specifically and fentanyl. And I'll start with you, Senator Scott. Tens of thousands of Americans families have suffered a death to fentanyl. Young people sometimes die taking one pill. What can you do as Commander in Chief on the first day to stop fentanyl and the waterfall of it into this country?

SCOTT: Well, number one, we should close our southern border. For $10 billion we could close our southern border. For an additional $5 billion, we could use the currently available military technology to surveil our southern border to stop fentanyl from crossing our border. I've already led on legislation that would sanction the Mexican cartels. If you remember the path, the precursors come from China, then they are manufactured in Mexican labs, and then the Mexican cartels bring them across our border. By sanctioning their accounts and eliminating their cash, we starve them of what they need.

Number one, closing our southern border makes it nearly impossible to get in. The military grade technology is a backup, making sure that we not only stop 70,000 deaths in the last 12 months because of fentanyl. It also allows us to deal with the human trafficking travesty that is entering in our country in the same path. If we are going to deal effectively with a hundred thousand overdose deaths in our country and the 70,000 that is directly linked to fentanyl, we have to deal with our ports of entry and deal with our southern border. If we do that effectively, we have started to reducing the challenge from the outside and then we have to deal with the challenge on the inside, which seems to be connected to a mental health crisis that is spreading throughout our nation.

HEWITT: Thank you, Senator. Governor Christie, Senator Scott just mentioned ports of entry, 90% of the fentanyl that is seized in the United States is seized at ports of entry. We don't know what's coming in across the open southern border. You've been a United States' Attorney, you've taken on cartels. Can it really be done quickly? What would you do as president?

CHRISTIE: It can be done quickly in two ways, Hugh, on fentanyl. The first way is exactly as you suggest that ports of entry, we have to beef up what our law enforcement has in terms of technology. I would invest in that as president. We need to make sure that law enforcement has every tool at its disposal to do it. Secondly, on day one, I would sign an executive order that would send the National Guard to partner with Customs and Border Patrol, both at ports of entry and at the open ports of our border. Customs and Border Patrol agents are overwhelmed. There's 200,000 encounters a month over the last 11 months. We simply do not have the man and woman power at the border to be able to deal with it. And so dealing with both law enforcement and you're right, we have done this, we can do this, but we got to give them the tools to do it and technology is one of the biggest tools that we don't have enough of at the ports of entry.

Now, we also need to lower demand, Hugh, in this country. And the way to lower demand is to start treating people again. We started to do this before COVID and we haven't done enough of it. And for every family out there tonight who has lost a loved one to fentanyl or to any other type of opioid overdose, what you know is all you want is a chance for them to win their lives back. When I'm president of the United States, we're going to call this what it is. It is a disease like heart disease, diabetes, or any other disease like cancer that can be treated, should be treated. We not only have to stop supply, but we have to lower demand and save lives.

HEWITT: Thank you, Governor. Governor DeSantis, you have talked about using United States special forces to attack the cartels where they manufacture the chemicals that come from China. How often, how many, what does that look like?

DESANTIS: Well, first I was speaking to a dad who lost a son to fentanyl overdose. Son wasn't a drug addict, he had taken some pill that happened to be laced with fentanyl and it was a fatal overdose. And when he told me, obviously the pain of losing a child is as bad as it gets, but he said what was salt in the wounds is that these elites in DC don't give a damn about what's going on in this country. They don't care that we have tens of thousands of opioid deaths, that the fentanyl's pouring in. They are not taking the type of action we need to. We're declaring it a national emergency on day one. I'm sending US military to the border. I'm going to stop the invasion cold. I am going to deport people who came illegally and I'm even going to build the border wall and have Mexico pay for it like Donald Trump promised.

How are you going to do it? Yeah, Mexico's not going to fork over money. We're going to impose fees on the remittances that foreign workers send to foreign countries. We'll raise billions of dollars, I'll build a wall. But we are going to designate the cartels to be foreign terrorist organizations or something similar to that and we're going to authorize the use of deadly force. We're going to have maritime operations to interdict precursor chemicals going into Mexico. But I'll tell you this, if someone in the drug cartels is sneaking fentanyl across the border when I'm president, that's going to be the last thing they do. We're going to shoot them stone cold dead

HEWITT: Ambassador Haley, if the United States uses special forces in Mexico without prior notice to the Mexican allies to our south, what would your colleagues at the United Nations think about that?

HALEY: I don't care what my colleagues at the United Nations think. What I'll tell you is first of all, you have to go to the source. We have lost more Americans in the Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq wars combined. We lost 75,000 Americans last year. Go to the source. It is the reason why we'll continue to say we will end all normal trade relations with China until they stop murdering Americans. You watch how quick that flow stops.

The second thing is we'll send special operations in to take out the cartels. We need to go to where they're distributing it, where the supply centers are and take them out. We'll put 25,000 more Border Patrol and ICE agents on the ground and let them do their job. We will defund sanctuary cities. We will go back to the Remain in Mexico policy so that everybody stays in Mexico and they never get here in the first place.

And instead of catch and deport, we'll go to catch and release. I'm sorry, instead of catch and release, we'll go to catch and deport. That is the way we'll deal with the border. Those are the things that we have to do going forward. But I do agree with Chris. One of the first things that we have to do is really focus on mental health and addiction centers. It is something that is needed in our country terribly because we don't deal with mental health and someone who doesn't get care for mental health falls into addiction and we owe it to them to treat it like the cancer that it is.

HEWITT: Mr. Ramaswamy, special forces in Mexico, shoot them stone-cold dead at the border.

RAMASWAMY: One thing I just want to say in how we're talking about this issue is, like Ron, I've actually met many parents across this country who have lost their kids to laced pharmaceuticals that have fentanyl in them.

DESANTIS: That's right.

RAMASWAMY: The only thing I would ask, Ron, I think you'd be on the same page with me on this. Let's not even call that an overdose.


RAMASWAMY: That is not an overdose, that is poisoning. If you put that fentanyl in a Big Mac, we would not call that an overdose. You'd call it what it is. It's closer to bio-terrorism. And I say that because as it uniquely relates to this crisis, that does warrant more aggressive means to deal with it. So there's a new presidential election in Mexico in 2024. People may not be aware of that. It's going to be someone other than Obrador, who has been a disaster in Mexico. I think he's even mentioned me obliquely in speeches to say that somebody who would do this shouldn't get anywhere near the White House. Well, AMLO, get out of the way. There's going to be someone else in charge. I hope to build a good relationship with that next president of Mexico. We'll use our own military to seal our own southern border. What we need to do is stop using our military to protect somebody else's border halfway around the world when we're short right here at home, get serious about protecting this border.

And then the other thing that hasn't been discussed is the northern border. I'm the only candidate on the stage as far as I'm aware, who has actually visited the northern border. There was enough fentanyl that was captured just on the northern border last year to kill 3 million Americans. So we got to just skate to where the puck is going, not just where the puck is. Don't just build the wall, build both walls. Can't just complete the wall. Use the military to seal the Swiss cheese for the tunnels that they're actually building underneath that wall-

HEWITT: Thank you, Mr. Ramaswamy.

RAMASWAMY: ... Be practical and actually get this job done.

HEWITT: Thank you. Kristen.

WELKER: Thank you, Hugh. Let's talk now about last night's election results. Abortion rights supporters saw victories in Ohio and Virginia following earlier wins in states like Kansas and Kentucky. Governor DeSantis, first to you. How do you see the path forward for Republicans on this issue?

DESANTIS: Well, I stand for a culture of life and I understand that it's important that everyone gets a shot. I'm reminded of a story about a young mother who was struggling in Jamaica about 40 years ago, 45 years ago. She was counseled to not have a baby because she was poor. Baby wouldn't have opportunity. And she came close to have an abortion, but she decided to have the baby, born poor in Jamaica. And the reason I know that story is because that baby girl ended up immigrating to the state of Florida, becoming a lawyer and a judge and I appointed her to the Florida Supreme Court in August of 2022.

We're better off when everybody counts. We're better off when we can promote a culture of life. At the same time, I understand that some of these states are doing it a little bit different. Texas is not going to do it the same as New Hampshire. Iowa's not necessarily going to do it the same as Virginia. So you got to work from the bottom up. You got to do a better job on these referenda. I think of all the stuff that's happened to the pro-life cause, they have been caught flatfooted on these referenda and they have been losing the referenda.

A lot of the people who are voting for the referenda are Republicans who would vote for a Republican candidate. So you got to understand how to do that. But let's just be clear, the Democrats have taken a position, they will not identify the point at which there should be any protection all the way up until birth. That is wrong and we cannot stand for that.

WELKER: All right, Governor DeSantis thank you. Ambassador Haley, let me have you weigh in. Former President Trump has consistently blamed the abortion issue and how Republican candidates have talked about it for their electoral losses. How do you see the path forward?

HALEY: I've said it before. I think you have to be honest with the American people. This is a personal issue for every woman and every man. I am unapologetically pro-life, not because the Republican Party tells me to be, but because my husband Michael was adopted and I had trouble having both of my children. So I'm surrounded by blessings. Having said that, when you look post-Roe, a wrong was made right. They took it out of the hands of unelected justices and they put it in the hands of the people and now we're seeing states vote. And what I'll tell you is as much as I'm pro-life, I don't judge anyone for being pro-choice and I don't want them to judge me for being pro-life. So when we're looking at this, there are some states that are going more on the pro-life side. I welcome that there's some states that are going more on the pro-choice side. I wish that wasn't the case, but the people decided.

But when it comes to the federal law, which is what's being debated here, be honest, it's going to take 60 Senate votes, a majority of the House and a president to sign it. So we haven't had 60 Senate votes in over a hundred years. We might have 45 pro-life senators. So no Republican president can ban abortions any more than a Democrat president can ban these state laws. So let's find consensus. Let's agree on how we can ban late term abortions. Let's make sure we encourage adoptions and good quality adoptions. Let's make sure we make contraception accessible. Let's make sure that none of these state laws put a woman in jail or give her the death penalty for getting an abortion. Let's focus on how to save as many babies as we can and support as many moms as we can and stop the judgment. We don't need to divide America over this issue anymore.

WELKER: Thank you Ambassador. Senator Scott, I'd like you to weigh in. How do you see the path forward and what do you make of what Ambassador Haley just said? Do you see this as a consensus issue?

SCOTT: Well, I'm a hundred percent pro-life. I have had a hundred percent pro-life voting record. I would certainly, as President of the United States, have a 15-week national limit. I would not allow states like California, Illinois or New York to have abortion up until the day of birth. I certainly wouldn't allow, not allow for governors, former governor, democratic governor of Virginia who talked about infanticide. We need a 15-week federal limit. Three out of four Americans agree with a 15-week limit, 47 out of 50 countries in Europe agree with a 15-week limit.

I would challenge both Nikki and Ron to join me at a 15-week limit. It is in our nation's best interest and frankly, I think it's unethical and immoral to allow for abortions up until the day of birth. We have an opportunity in this nation to stop that reckless behavior from states like California, New York and Illinois. I'd go a step further. In my parents' plan, we start by talking about funding block granting resources to crisis pregnancy centers. We should support adoption. There are a number of ways that we can say to the expectant mother that we stand with you. We should not only be pro-life before the child is born, we should be pro-life after the child is born just as much.

WELKER: Senator Scott, thank you. Ambassador Haley, your name was invoked. Would you support a 15-week federal limit?

HALEY: I would support anything that would pass because that's what would save more babies and support more moms. But do you have to be honest with the American people and I appreciate that Tim keeps calling me out for this, but Tim, there was a bill last year. Lindsey Graham sponsored it. You didn't even co-sponsor the bill and then when you first were interviewed on this, when you ran, you wouldn't even say you were for 15 weeks.

What I'm saying to the American people is-

SCOTT: That's just not true.

HALEY: ... Let's see what we can agree on. Let's bring people together and decide what we can agree on. I will sign anything where we can get 60 Senate votes, but don't make the American people think that you're going to push something on them when we don't even have the votes in the Senate. It's important that we're honest about that.

WELKER: Let me go to Mr. Ramaswamy. Would you support a 15-week federal ban and what is the path forward on this issue?

RAMASWAMY: I just wanted to say, I mean I think Nikki Haley did invoke being honest and I at least want to give credit to Tim Scott. He's honest about where he stood and I think you should be honest, not making a political calculus but to say if a bill is served up, would you sign it? Here's my view on this. Speaking as a man, they say men have trouble speaking on this issue. I don't think we need to be that way. It was my home state of Ohio, I'm upset about this, yesterday that passed a constitutional amendment that now effectively codifies a right to abortion all the way up to the time of birth without parental consent. Why? It's back to that Republican culture of losing.

The Republicans did not have an alternative amendment or vision on the table. I know Ohio. I was born, raised, and I live there. It's representative of the country. If, in the state of Ohio, we talked about access to contraception, adoption and also here's the missing ingredient in this movement, sexual responsibility for men. We live in an era of reliable genetic paternity tests that are a hundred percent reliable. So we can say men deserve more responsibility. So we can tell women, "We're all in this together." It's not men's rights versus women's rights, it's about human rights. And I come back to that case that Clarence Thomas spoke of. A pregnant woman walking down the street, she's assaulted, the unborn child dies in that assault. You find me one person in this country who says that that criminal does not deserve liability for that death. You won't find one. That says we share the same instincts on this issue, but we require, I believe, a different generation-

WELKER: Mr. Ramaswamy, thank you.

RAMASWAMY: ... of leadership to actually lead us forward and unite the country on this-

WELKER: Thank you.

RAMASWAMY: ... Honesty.

WELKER: Thank you, Mr. Ramaswamy. Governor Christie, as you know, federal limits are important to a lot of Republicans. Where do you stand on this issue and what is the path forward for Republicans?

CHRISTIE: For 50 years, conservative lawyers have been arguing that the federal government should have absolutely nothing to do with this issue constitutionally because it's nowhere in the Constitution. And then Dobbs comes and we finally gain that victory, which was the creation of a constitutional right out of thin air that didn't exist. And now we have people running to say, "Let's short circuit the states from doing what they need to do and let's go right to some type of federal ban at a certain number of weeks and people on this stage have been all over the place. 20 weeks, 15 weeks, 12, six. Look the [inaudible] thinks we're really smart and this is an issue that should be decided in each state. And I trust the people of this country, state by state, to make the call for themselves.

Now that's going to lead to a lot of divergence. In Oklahoma you can't get an abortion unless the life of the mother is at risk. In my home state of New Jersey, it goes up to nine months that you get an abortion. I find that morally reprehensible, but that is what the people of our state have voted for and we should not short circuit that process until every state's people have the right to weigh in on it. But here's the bigger issue, Kirsten. The bigger issue is, and Tim began to touch on this, we're not pro-life for the whole life. To be pro-life for the whole life means that the life of a 16-year-old drug addict on the floor of the county lockup is precious and we should get treatment for her to restore her life. The 52-year-old who's drug addicted should make sure that any of his children who he's passed that addiction on to are treated well, too.

WELKER: Thank you.

CHRISTIE: Pro-life is not just in the womb, Kirsten, it's for the whole life.

WELKER: All right, Governor, thank you. Candidates, thank you. We're going to take a final break and when we come back we'll hear from all of you with your closing statements. This is the NBC news Republican presidential debate. We'll be back, right after this.

[commercial break]

HOLT: Well welcome back everyone. With only two hours for a debate, we know there are other major issues that are important to Republican primary voters. I'll ask you each to please use your closing statement to focus on any topic you didn't have time to address and why you and not former President Trump would be the party's best choice to tackle these important issues. You each have a minute. Senator Scott, we'll start with you. One minute.

SCOTT: There's a crisis that is growing in our nation and that crisis is cultural and spiritual. We need a renewal, a great awakening. We should reject the Left's valueless, faithless, fatherless society. We should turn back to faith, patriotism, and individual responsibility. We should stop choosing victimhood and start choosing victory. We should stop kneeling in protest and start kneeling in prayer. There are basic truths that Built this country. If you're able-bodied in America, you work. If you take out a loan, you pay it back. If you commit a violent crime, you go to jail. And if God made you a man, you play sports against men. I do not just want to-

HOLT: Audience please.

SCOTT: I do not just want to win the battle against Joe Biden. I want us together to win the war. The war for our Christian conservative-

HOLT: Senator Scott.

SCOTT: ... Values that changed my life.

HOLT: Senator Scott, thank you. Governor Christie, you have one minute for your closing remarks.

SCOTT: ... That's why I'm asking for your vote.

CHRISTIE: Thank you for hosting tonight. Listen, it's a gift. A gift to be an American. And I'm running for President of the United States because I'm tired. I'm tired of seeing the division. I'm tired of seeing the anger. And I could see in the eyes of Americans, their exhaustion. Their exhaustion from the petty personal politics that have taken over this country over the last number of years. I'm running for president to be a president of consequence, to do the big things, to make sure that America's role in the world stays number one. That we stand up for our friends and allies around the world and we stand up for what we believe in right here at home.

And it's not to eliminate our differences. Our differences has always been our strength as a country, not our weakness. But you can't truly say you love America unless you're ready to open up your heart to every American. I'm going to open up my heart to every American as president and I will make sure that I return honesty, integrity to the Oval Office. We deserve and should accept nothing less.

HOLT: Governor, thank you very much. Let's go to Mr. Ramaswamy now. Your one minute.

RAMASWAMY: We've talked a lot about foreign wars tonight, but we're in the middle of a war right here at home. It's a war not between Black and white, or Democrat and Republican. It's between those of us who believe in our founding ideals and love this country and a fringe minority who hates the United States of America. And I think it's going to take a commander in chief to lead us to victory in that war, who first of all knows that we're in a war. Second of all, can't be captured by the special interests along the way. But third is from the next generation. Somebody with fresh legs to lead us to victory. I'll shut down the deep state. I'll declare economic independence from China. I'll keep us out of World War III and then revive national pride in this country.

I also want to close with one message to the Democrat party. End this farce that Joe Biden is going to be your nominee. We know he's not even the President of the United States. He's a puppet for the managerial class. So have the guts to step up and be honest about who you're actually going to put up so we can have an honest debate. Biden should step aside, end his candidacy now, so we can see whether it's Newsom or Michelle Obama or whoever else.

HOLT: All right, Mr. Ramaswamy.

RAMASWAMY: Just tell us truth so we can have an honest debate.

HOLT: Your time is up.

RAMASWAMY: Ambassador Haley, you have one minute for your closing.

HALEY: Thank you. The world is on fire. We have a war in Europe. We've got a war in the Middle East. We've got China on the march. It is very important that we know how to defend our freedoms and how to defeat terrorism and socialism. We have to know the difference between good and evil. We have to know the difference between right and wrong. We need to know that a strong America doesn't start wars as strong America prevents wars. And the way we can focus on that is to make sure we go back to the soul of America and be strong and proud again. And we can't do that. We can't win the fights of the 21st century with politicians from the 20th century. We have to move forward and we can do this. I know we can do this. So join our movement, go to nikkihaley.com and we will once again show what America that's strong and proud looks like. God bless.

HOLT: Ambassador, thank you. Governor DeSantis, you're closing. You have one minute.

DESANTIS: We must reverse our country's decline and that is going to require leadership. I will take the hits, I will take the arrows, I will take the barbs because it's not about me, it's about you. It's not about the past, it's about your future. We are going to fight for you. I am going to win for you and your family, and I'm going to lead this country's revival. As a veteran of the Iraq War and in the Navy, I will always put service above self as President.

As the father of three young kids, I'm going to ensure that this country is left to the next generation in better shape than we found it. And as the Governor of Florida, I delivered on all my promises and you can trust me to deliver for you. As the President of the United States, I am asking for your vote. I'll be a nominee that will be able to win the election. I will be a leader you can be proud of. And as your President, I will not let you down. God bless you.

HOLT: Governor DeSantis, thank you. That is going to conclude our debate. The next line says if the audience can hold their applause. That didn't work out. But anyway, for just a few more seconds, I'll ask you to just hold the applause. On behalf of my fellow moderators, I want to thank the candidates for their time and for this spirited debate. Really good, deep conversation and we appreciate you all being here. Thank you as well to our wonderful host here at the Adrienne Arsht Performing Arts Center. On behalf of the Republican National Committee and all of us at NBC News, goodnight everyone from Miami.

Presidential Candidate Debates, Republican Candidates Debate in Miami, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/367564

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